[Screen It]


(1998) (Sean Penn, Kevin Spacey) (R)

Blood/Gore Disrespectful/
Bad Attitude
Tense Scenes
Extreme Minor Extreme None None
Mild None Minor None Extreme
Smoking Tense Family
Topics To
Talk About
Heavy Moderate Minor Mild Mild

Drama: A Hollywood player attempts to figure out life through his relationships with friends and women.
Eddie (SEAN PENN) and Mickey (KEVIN SPACEY) are Hollywood casting agents figuratively and literally living the high life. Often drugged out of their minds, the two share both a house and office space. Where they differ is in their attitude toward Phil (CHAZZ PALMINTERI), an out of work actor. While Mickey has never liked him, Eddie has taken to Phil, and helps him deal with his failing career and marriage.

The two men also share a common dilemma regarding Darlene (ROBIN WRIGHT PENN), Eddie's sometime girlfriend whom he's recently and inexplicably allowed to date Mickey. Through their dealings with her and others, it's apparent neither seem to respect women, a trait also found in their producer friend, Artie (GARY SHANDLING), who brings over a young drifter, Donna (ANNA PAQUIN) to be their sexual plaything.

As time passes and Phil's marriage continues to crumble despite his wife being pregnant, Eddie decides to fix him up with Bonnie (MEG RYAN), an exotic dancer with a reputation for satisfying men's needs. Despite his efforts to help Phil, however, Eddie isn't happy with his life either, and after a tragic incident, he begins to question himself and his relationship with others.

Unless they're fans of someone in the cast, it's highly unlikely.
For constant drug use, pervasive strong language and sexual material.
Considering the attitudes displayed by the main characters, along with their heavy use of drugs, it's doubtful many parents would consider anyone in the film to be good role models.


OUR TAKE: 3 out of 10
Stage plays and motion pictures are often two beasts with completely disparate characteristics. While theatrical performances usually rely heavily on dialogue to carry the production (often due to budgetary and physical space restrictions), most movies are stories told with pictures where -- for better or worse -- the dialogue is often a secondary concern.

As such -- and despite some examples to the contrary -- it's usually quite difficult to translate a story from one medium to the other. Such adaptions often seem restrained when on stage, or conversely, feel like a talk-fest on film that spins its wheels and never seems to get anywhere.

Such is the case with "Hurlyburly." Based on playwright David Rabe's 1984 stage production of the same name (and for which he adapted the screenplay), this film, seemingly a deep probe into the lives and psyches of desperate people, instead comes off as more of a chatty and decidedly boring mess.

Perhaps the story worked better on stage, but the nonstop yacking clearly doesn't carry the same poetic, albeit occasionally artificial sounding dialogue found in the works of fellow playwright David Mamet. Thus, the rambling and continual wordplay never sounds real, and too clearly shows the writer's intentions while never being witty enough to hold or at least appease the audience and their attention span.

What partly saves the production and serves as the only real reason why anyone might decide to see this film is its stellar cast. Although few of the characters are remotely likeable and often comes off more as vehicles for the film's message than as real, flesh and blood people, most of the performances are strong and occasionally compelling.

In addition, the performers should all get kudos for memorizing often long and jumbled trains of dialogue and for delivering such verbiage like they really mean what they're saying, even if they don't understand all of it.

Despite his character's often unrealistic dialogue, and the fact that too much "damage" is done early on that prevents the audience from truly caring about him, Sean Penn ("U Turn," "The Game") delivers yet another strong performance. Often underrated as an actor and often known more for his run-ins with the paparazzi than his acting abilities, Penn is a good and reliable character actor and it shows here.

As in most of another performer's movies, however, it's Kevin Spacey ("L.A. Confidential," "A Time to Kill") who steals the show. Featuring a platinum dye job and exuding his usual "oily" demeanor, Spacey doesn't showboat his character, but instead subtly delivers the film's best performance. Chazz Palminteri ("Diabolique," "The Usual Suspects"), while decent as the volatile loser, unfortunately suffers in a role afflicted by the fact that we don't like, and subsequently don't care about his character, thus undermining his efforts.

Supporting performances are relatively okay, but Gary Shandling ("Love Affair") -- who's often displayed a darker side lurking beneath his comedy that was brilliantly showcased in HBO's late, "The Larry Sanders Show" -- feels underused in his role for a film such as this one.

The trio of performers playing the trampled upon women who hang around these losers are all decent, despite their characters being shortchanged of any realistic depth. As such, while Robin Wright Penn ("She's So Lovely," "Moll Flanders") is as reliably strong as ever, Meg Ryan ("City of Angels," the upcoming "You've Got Mail") has a bit more to sink her teeth into, and nicely plays against her normally charismatic and bubbly roles. Meanwhile, Anna Paquin ("The Piano," "Fly Away Home"), playing her first "adult" character, is decent but not outstanding as the young drifter.

Dark, moody and decidedly misogynistic, this two hour film is tedious and occasionally torturous to sit through. With dialogue that's too contrived and artificial sounding, a plot that never really gets anywhere, and a passel of characters we neither like nor care for, director Anthony Drazan ("Zebrahead") can't do much with the film, and the audience subsequently has no reason to appreciate, let alone enjoy this picture. Despite its intentions and theatrical pedigree, the story -- as executed here -- simply doesn't work on film. Accordingly, we give the picture just a 3 out of 10.

While it's questionable how many kids will want to see this film, here's a quick look at its content. Profanity is extreme with 90+ "f" words and a wide assortment of other words and phrases. Drug use is rampant during the film, with most characters snorting coke or smoking pot.

We see several sexual encounters, and while there's movement and related sounds, the only nudity seen is when Eddie gets out of bed and we briefly see his bare butt. We do see many instances of the men being misogynists as they belittle women and call them a host of disparaging names.

Beyond the thematic elements of loneliness, suicide and a brief discussion about a character having had an abortion in the past, the rest of the categories have little or no major objectionable content. Nonetheless, should you or someone in your home wish to see this film, you may wish to take a closer look at what's been listed.

Of special note for those concerned with repetitive on screen flashes, several moments of that occur early in the film.

  • Throughout the film, we see many instances of drug use among Eddie (lots of snorting cocaine, some pot smoking), Mickey (pot smoking and some coke), Phil, Bonnie and Artie (a little of both for each), and Donna briefly smokes a joint. Most of all of that occurs in two scenes, the later of which where everyone seems quite high.
  • In addition, we see Phil and Mickey with beer, Mickey and Bonnie drinking shots of liquor, and Mickey and Darlene having wine.
  • Phil returns and comments on taking too much Valium.
  • People have drinks at a party (including Eddie and Darlene who drink beer).
  • We briefly see a TV program showing a surgical procedure (with some "gooey" internal views).
  • The three men are all misogynists who treat women in their lives horribly and call them a wide variety of disparaging names such as "bitches," "a piece of ass," "whores," "broads," etc...
  • Artie brings over Donna for Eddie and Mickey as their sexual plaything.
  • Some viewers may not like the fact that Darlene briefly talks about having had an abortion in the past.
  • None.
  • None.
  • Phrases: "Balling," "Laid," "Blow job" and "Suck my d*ck" (all sexual), "Bitch," "You dumb bitch," "Whore," "Broad," "Piece of ass," "Bimbo," "Chick" and "Ditz" (said to, or about women), "Scumbag," "Jerk around," "Jerk off," "Nuts" (crazy), "Bastard," "Shut up," "Jerk" and "Pissed."
  • All of the drug use may inspire some kids to do the same.
  • We learn that one character killed himself by driving off a cliff, while another attempts to do the same in a swimming pool.
  • None.
  • A few ominous tones play during the film.
  • None.
  • At least 91 "f" words (9 used sexually, 1 used with "mother"), 22 "s" words, 9 slang terms for male genitals ("pr*ck," "d*ck" and "wong"), 1 slang term for female genitals ("tw*t"), 6 slang terms for breasts ("t*ts"), 7 asses (2 used with "hole"), 2 hells, 2 damns, and 26 uses of "G- damn," 7 of "Oh my God," 3 of "God," 2 of "Oh God" and 1 use each of "For Christ's sakes," "God Almighty" and "Christ" as exclamations.
  • We see brief images of a sexual encounter with some momentary movement (but no explicit nudity).
  • Eddie asks Mickey if he had sex with Darlene and he responds, "Did I f*ck Darlene last night?" (but doesn't confirm or deny it).
  • Artie brings Donna over to Eddie and Mickey as their sexual plaything. Eddie then asks, "So we can keep her and f*ck her?" Artie replies that they can for practice in case "you run into a woman."
  • Later, Donna asks Eddie what he's talking about and he says, "F*cking you. Do you want to go upstairs? She agrees and we later see him on top of her under the sheets (with some movement) and Phil walks in on them (and Eddie has him stay).
  • We hear sexual sounds and then see Darlene on top of Eddie as they climax during sex (movement, but no nudity).
  • Phil and Eddie briefly talk about the former's high sperm count (and that he's taking stuff to prevent him from getting his wife pregnant).
  • Eddie comments to Phil and Mickey that they "need to get laid." We then hear that Phil carries a vibrator with him to get women "in the mood."
  • We hear that Bonnie is an exotic, nude dancer, and one of the men comments that the only thing artistic about her is "her blow job." We then hear a story about Eddie and Mickey having her accompany an actor and performing oral sex on him (and refer to him having a large "wong").
  • Bonnie occasionally shows some cleavage.
  • Bonnie asks Phil if he wants to go to her or his place, and then adds, "Do you want to go to a sex motel?....They've got porn on the in house video."
  • Commenting on Bonnie having sex with many other guys, Eddie asks, "Why don't you f*ck me?" and she replies, "I f*ck whoever I want."
  • Later, Eddie, having opened his fly and putting his hand inside his pants, repeatedly and desperately asks Bonnie, "Suck my d*ck."
  • We hear sexual sounds and then see Eddie on top of Darlene having sex with her (movement, but no nudity until Eddie gets out of bed and goes into the bathroom when we see brief shots of his bare butt).
  • Darlene talks about having had an abortion several years before the story begins after sleeping with two guys.
  • Donna nonchalantly asks Eddie, "Do you want to f*ck me or anything before I go to sleep?" He declines the offer.
  • Eddie smokes throughout the film and we also see a chauffeur smoking.
  • Phil has marital problems (that later involves a newborn) and we hear that he struck her at one time.
  • We learn that Mickey has a wife and kids (but currently isn't seeing them) and that Eddie has a kid as well (that he likewise doesn't see).
  • Loneliness and unhappy people.
  • Suicide (one character does so off screen, another attempts to do so via drowning).
  • Abortion (a character briefly admits to having one in the past).
  • We hear (but don't see) that Phil struck his wife at some point in the past.
  • Phil head butts Donna, knocking her to the sofa.
  • Phil briefly goes for a store manager's throat, but Eddie quickly separates them.
  • The guys briefly joke about Phil hitting someone else.
  • Phil pushes Bonnie from a moving car, but despite some bruises, she appears to okay and just shaken.
  • Phil smacks Eddie several times.
  • We learn that a character killed themselves by driving their car off a cliff.
  • Eddie briefly pushes Mickey backwards.

  • Reviewed November 9, 1998 / Posted on December 25, 1998

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